Conference: Transitional Justice without Transition? Redressing Past Injustices under State Socialism

The Maoist Legacy will be hosting the international conference “Transitional Justice without Transition? Redressing Past Injustices under State Socialism” on February 21-23, 2019, at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies. The conference will bring together scholars from around the world working on China, the Soviet Union, Romania, and North Korea. Soviet scholar Prof. Dr. Nanci Adler will deliver a keynote entitled: “The Future of the Soviet Past: Russia and the Challenge of the Age of Transitional Justice.”

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The Maoist Legacy Database – Now Available

The Maoist Legacy Project team is pleased to announce the availability to colleagues of the Maoist Legacy Database, a digital archive that we have been compiling related to project research. The archive currently holds about 3,400 carefully curated items that address various aspects of how the CCP, in the aftermath of Mao’s death, dealt with past injustices. Scholarly introductions provide a starting point for exploring various facets of the available materials. Collections and Exhibits showcase highlights from the archive. Translations of selected items allow access for non-specialist readers. Other features include the ability to transcribe handwritten Chinese documents that have been uploaded, and a resources section that includes our Zhongfa Directory and extensive bibliography. The digital archive is an ongoing project, and we have plans to release additional introductions, exhibits, and items in the coming weeks and months. This initial version is still in beta phase. We welcome feedback from fellow researchers in order to optimize usability and foster collaboration.

Please note that the digital reproductions of the materials in the Maoist Legacy Database are to be used only for research, scholarship, and other non-commercial educational purposes. Every user must agree to these terms and conditions upon registering for the database. We gratefully acknowledge the funding for this project provided by the European Research Council (ERC). For questions and feedback, please contact us at contact[at]

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Workshop: Statistics, Categories, Politics

The Maoist Legacy will host the international workshop Statistics, Categories, Politics: Analyzing, Interpreting, and Visualizing Data in Recent Chinese History on October 4 and 5. From the workshop program:

Many sources on the recent Chinese past, such as archival documents and local gazetteers, include regional or national statistics that pose various problems for historians or social scientists. Instead of simply debunking this information as unreliable, several research projects have in recent years made critical use of this data to gather additional information on Chinese politics and society. In this workshop, we will address pertinent issues, such as handling data distortions and estimating uncertainty, aggregation and disaggregation of numbers based on contemporary classification schemes, the role of statistics in CCP knowledge production, and the role of case studies and geographical data to account for regional or local differences. Special emphasis will be given to preparing datasets and employing the use of computational and digital methods for analysis. This will be a hands-on workshop devoted to employing best practices with different kinds of sources and exploring new methods for critically understanding the recent Chinese past. Papers and presentations will subsequently be published as an aid for early career researchers.

Venue: Peterhofkeller, Room no. 4, Niemensstr. 10
Date: October 4-5, 2018

New publication: Victims, Perpetrators and the Role of Law in Maoist China: A Case-Study Approach

Our collaborative volume on the everyday practices of politics and law in Maoist China has now appeared with De Gruyter. It is available for purchase via the publisher’s website or from online retailers.

The relationship between politics and law in the early People’s Republic of China was highly contentious. Periods of intentionally excessive campaign justice intersected with attempts to carve out professional standards of adjudication and to offer retroactive justice for those deemed to have been unjustly persecuted. How were victims and perpetrators defined and dealt with during different stages of the Maoist era and beyond? How was law practiced, understood, and contested in local contexts? This volume adopts a case study approach to shed light on these complex questions. By way of a close reading of original case files from the grassroots level, the contributors detail procedures and question long-held assumptions, not least about the Cultural Revolution as a period of “lawlessness.”


Call for Papers: Transitional Justice without Transition? Redressing Past Injustices under State Socialism

Call for Papers: Transitional Justice without Transition? Redressing Past Injustices under State Socialism

Venue: Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies
Date: February 21-23, 2019
Organizer: Prof. Daniel Leese, Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Freiburg

The question of how societies cope with the legacy of past injustices and atrocities has attracted enormous scholarly and political attention in the past three decades. The concept of “transitional justice,” denoting various types of judicial and non-judicial approaches to aid societal reconciliation after mass conflict or state crimes, is often used to frame corresponding research. While the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials are commonly cited as pioneering this approach, the “age of transitional justice” (Adler 2018) only began in the 1980s, when the global ascent of human rights discourses underpinned attempts to establish institutions and practices that could help overcome legacies of repression and dictatorship. It is therefore unsurprising that underlying most studies invoking the notion of transitional justice is a normative precondition to include only transitions from dictatorship to democracy. This narrow definition has hindered comparative perspectives on the functioning of amnesties and rehabilitation of victims, administrative lustration, trials against perpetrators, and the politics of historical memory in non-democratic transformation processes. Recent examples, especially in the Near and Middle East, reveal that selective employment of institutions and rhetoric associated with transitional justice may even be used to strengthen authoritarian rule.

In the history of the world communist movement, there are two major examples of redressing injustices committed under Communist Party rule: First, the Soviet “thaw” following Stalin’s death in 1953, when hundreds of thousands formerly persecuted cadres and citizens were rehabilitated, and when most Gulag prisoners were granted amnesty. In the wake of de-Stalinization, most East European communist governments preferred handing out amnesties or they offered rehabilitation in secretive fashion rather than providing legal recourse through the codification of rehabilitation in law (McDermott/Stibbe 2015). The second major instance is the reversal of verdicts in the People’s Republic of China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. The Chinese Communist Party leadership around Deng Xiaoping had been closely involved in countering the impact of de-Stalinization back in 1956 and now drew their lessons by prioritizing “stability and unity” and “looking toward the future” in the transformation process. While consciously drawing inspiration from international examples such as the Nuremberg trials, stepping up efforts to strengthen socialist legality, and publicly announcing millions of rehabilitations, the leadership simultaneously drew a clear line between emerging human rights discourses and the reversal of so-called “unjust, false, and mistaken” cases.

To help rethink the functions and processes of administrating historical justice under state socialism, we invite papers that address topics including, but not limited to:

Comparative case studies and theoretical approaches: Comparisons between state socialist attempts to redress past injustices and procedures favored by transitional justice advocates;
Regime legitimacy and state capacity: Comparisons between long- and short-term aims and outcomes of redressing injustices under state socialism, as well as differences between routine procedures for correcting miscarriages of justice and the transformative potential of major “thaws”;
Politics of memory: The role of propaganda and the handling of divergent narratives about past injustices within controlled public spheres, and the role of art and culture in the production of social and political representations of illegitimate pasts;
Restitution and resources: Material dimensions of coping with past injustices, including compensation for seized or destroyed property, as well as forms of socio-economic rehabilitation such as restoration of salaries or payments to victims;
Temporalities: Linkages between narratives of historical justice and political visions of the future; alternative/counterfactual approaches to “transitional justice with socialist characteristics” and context-specific conditions for and understanding of “democracy” in particular;
Methods and Sources: Critical discussions regarding the role of research and (digital) documentation in transitional justice or state socialist attempts to redress past injustices;

Keynote speakers:

Prof. Nanci Adler (University of Amsterdam)
Prof. Jörg Baberowski (Humboldt University of Berlin)
Prof. Han Gang (East China Normal University, Shanghai)

Interested paper-givers should submit an abstract (300 words) and a short bio (100 words) by 15 September 2018. Notification of acceptance will be sent by 30 September 2018. Costs for economy class travel and local accommodation can be covered for confirmed participants, but self-funding is encouraged where possible. The deadline for submitting full papers (6000-8000 words) is 15 February 2019. A selection of the papers will be chosen for publication in an edited volume with a peer-reviewed publisher. The conference language will be English.

Please direct all questions and papers to Ms. Man ZHANG at

This conference is organized with generous funding from the European Research Council (ERC) as part of the project: “The Maoist Legacy: Party Dictatorship, Transitional Justice, and the Politics of Truth.”

The Maoist Legacy at CrossAsia Fachtagung 2018

The Maoist Legacy will be represented at the CrossAsia Fachtagung 2018, where we will give a presentation on our work to construct a database (and the challenges that we have encountered) under the title “Doing Digital History of the People’s Republic of China: the Maoist Legacy Database and Its Discontents.”

See the full program here.

Talk at EHESS: “Réhabiliter, juger, contenir – la justice réparatrice en Chine”

Puck Engman will present the methodological and historiographical issues linked to the project research at the first in a series of workshops under the title “Enquêter en Chine et en Russie : à la recherche d’appuis communs pour la réflexion,” organized by Isabelle Thireau (CCJ-CECMC) and Françoise Daucé (CERCEC).

The workshop will be held on December 12 at the EHESS, Paris.

The program can be viewed here.

Sebastian Veg on the rise of grassroots intellectuals

On November 7, Sebastian Veg will come to Freiburg to give a lecture with the title “Speaking with the Silent Majority: the Rise of Grassroots Intellectuals.” An abstract:

Whereas, throughout the 20th century, intellectuals in China defined themselves through a posture of responsibility for the affairs of the nation and the state (“taking the world under the heavens as one’s responsibility”), in the last twenty years, positions have become more diverse and more complex. Beginning in the 1990s, intellectuals were no longer exclusively affiliated with state work units, and their income sources became more diverse. Many began to question the “grand narratives” of modernization and democracy, which had cemented the elite consensus over “reform” in the 1980s. Criticizing intellectuals’ traditional elitist bias, they shifted their interests to concrete problems, often associated with people situated not at the center but at the margins of society, famously described by Wang Xiaobo as the “silent majority” or “weak groups” (ruoshi qunti). Some of them began to work for NGOs, or study sensitive topics, or produce documentary films. As the public sphere broadened to include the internet and social media, new forms of interventions appeared, along with alternative spaces. This presentation will attempt to assess the changes that have taken place and to connect them with several theoretical questions related to definitions of the intellectual and of the public sphere

Time: November 7, 18:15.

Place: Erbprinzenstraße 12.